We can see programming everywhere in the form of websites, cell phone applications, video games, and much more. Someone has to write and deploy that programming and while coding may seem intimidating, it’s a skill you can start learning fairly quickly. How long does it take to learn programming?
If you’re starting to program from scratch, it takes 3-6 months to master the basics. For those learning more challenging skills or hoping to get a programming job, progress can take anywhere between six months to a year if you’re practicing 4 hours a day/5 days a week. Becoming an advanced programmer, which includes a suite of skills and project experience, takes at least six months of work on advanced topics, but more often takes years.
What is programming?
Computers rely on programs, but someone has to write a code for the program so it knows what to do. When phrased this way, programming may sound simple, but considering how many programs there are and all the tasks they’re responsible for, it gets complicated quickly. Programmers are constantly learning how to work with programming languages (there are hundreds) and different tools to create new and better computer programs.
Programmers start with a source code, which is written in a code editor or IDE. The code is then converted into a machine language, so the machine (like a computer) can understand and execute what they’re supposed to. The programs responsible for this conversion are called “compilers.” Languages like C and C++ use compilers. Not every language needs compilers; some use interpreters that go through each statement of code line-by-line. The Python language uses an interpreter.
Are coding and programming the same? The terms are often used interchangeably, but coding is just one part of programming. Programming includes more tasks, tools, and skills. If you want to be more involved in web or software development, programming is the better path.
How long it takes to become a beginner programmer – learning a programming language, completing an easy project, taking a beginner computer science course
For our purposes, we’re defining a beginner as someone just starting to learn programming and coding from zero. When you’re starting from scratch, the Thinkful blog says it can take around 3-6 months to get the basics. Many people like to begin with Python, a programming language frequently used by data scientists and web developers. Python built YouTube, Instagram, and Spotify. It was created with readability in mind, so it’s an excellent choice for people unfamiliar with programming. Because of its syntax, it’s easiest for English speakers. HTML is also fairly easy to learn.
Practice is essential to programming, but as a beginner, you may wonder where to start. Tutorials can help guide you through simple projects, like creating a chess game, a calculator, or a basic website. You may not understand what’s going on behind the scenes quite yet, but playing with codes and building things keeps the process fun and interesting. It’s possible to learn programming all on your own, but an introductory course in computer science (like this 19-hour course that teaches Python basics) can get you started on the right foot. If you’re looking for free resources, nonprofit freeCodeCamp compiled an extensive list of free programming courses on topics like Python, Linux, HTML, and more.
How long it takes to become an intermediate programmer – getting ready for an entry-level job, knowing more languages, expanding your skill set
Getting to the point where you’re ready to work an entry-level job in programming can take a while. According to Codingem, it can take 500-1000 hours. With four hours of practice a day five days out of the week, that equals about 6-12 months. The range is so wide because you’ll see different results depending on whether you’re teaching yourself, doing an apprenticeship, doing a boot camp, or getting a degree. Whichever route you take, progressing from a beginner programmer to an intermediate one requires many skills. You’ll be expanding your knowledge of programming languages, using coding best practices automatically (best practices are informal rules used for efficiency), and learning about more complex topics like data structures and algorithms.
Different skills take different lengths of time. For those with coding experience, learning the basics of C++ (one of the hardest programming languages) can take 1-3 months with one hour of practice a day. Mastery takes at least two years. An Excel specialization course on Coursera takes six months with five hours of work per week. Learning data structures and algorithms, which are two must-haves for programmers, can take 6-8 weeks with 3-4 hours of study per day, according to Whatsabyte. More skills equal more opportunities.
How long it takes to become an advanced programmer – machine learning and full-stack development
No one can truly “master” programming, so becoming an advanced programmer is a process that stretches over a lifetime. There are always more things to learn, like machine learning, which is a category of artificial intelligence. According to Springboard, it can take a programmer about six months to finish a machine learning curriculum. The time it takes to become a full-stack developer (who works with the frontend and backend of websites and applications) varies depending on your experience and commitment. Some sources say it can take as little as 3-6 months while others say to expect around a year or so. Within full-stack development, there are many career stages. A leadership role requires 10+ years of experience.
Not everyone wants to get into machine learning or full-stack development, but to become an advanced programmer, you’ll most likely need at least some familiarity with them as concepts. Advanced programmers also need to work with complex applications, use stacks, create advanced functions, and more.
Why should you learn programming?
Programming takes a decent amount of time and focus, but there are many benefits to learning this skill. Here are the three main ones:
#1. It pays well
Programming is a specialized field, and as more industries now rely on technology and coding, you can find great job opportunities around the world. According to Computer Careers, programmers in the United States earn an average of $40.84/hour. Salaries can go as high as $131,120/year. In early 2022, Qubit Labs studied salary calculators and found that software engineers (a profession that uses programming skills) in the United States made an average annual salary of $114,000. Switzerland came next with $95,000 with Australia in third with $85,000.
#2. It’s useful for just about every job
Programming is useful for marketing, design, sales, customer relations, and much more. As an example, knowing how to build websites can make you a valuable asset at most jobs or it can help you launch a side gig. So many areas of life today involve programming, so even if you don’t go on to be a full-time programmer, you’ll quickly see how useful the skills can be.
#3. It’s good for your brain health
Research from MIT neuroscientists found that reading computer code activates what’s called “the multiple demand network.” This is the same network used for tasks like solving math problems or doing crossword puzzles. Interestingly, programming also relies on parts of the brain not used that much by math or logic. Why does this matter? Coding exercises many parts of the brain, strengthening your memory, creativity, and overall brain health.
What skills do you need?
We’ve discussed skills like knowing computer languages, working with algorithms, and so on, but what are some “soft” skills that help you learn to program? Here are three:
Skill #1: Independence
Even if you’re getting a degree in computer programming, improvement depends on independent practice and learning. If you’re studying on your own, your progress is based entirely on your goal-setting, practice schedule, and commitment to finding resources. If you have trouble working on your own, you might benefit from boot camps and courses that offer more structure.
Skill #2: Attention to detail
In programming, every piece of code matters. It’s a meticulous, detailed craft that requires a lot of attention. If you’re someone who isn’t used to pouring over the nitty-gritty parts of a task, you’ll likely make a lot of mistakes and be forced to go over your work again. Be patient with yourself and commit to paying closer attention. If you’re already a detail-oriented person, you’re a good fit for programming!
Skill #3: Abstract thinking
When you’re programming, you’ll be working with a lot of abstract concepts and trying to form an idea of what the outcome looks like. It can feel like putting a puzzle together. Sometimes, you have the picture on the box to refer to, but other times, you don’t. There’s a lot of experimentation, turning things around to see a different angle, and taking things apart when they don’t look right. As you practice programming, your abstract thinking skills will improve, but abstract thinkers will most likely learn faster.
What tools do you need?
Programmers have many tools to choose from, but here are three must-haves:
Tool #1: Desktop or laptop with full operating systems
You need to install software development tools to write code. You’ll want a desktop computer or a laptop with a full operating system like Mac OS, Linux, or Windows. You can start to learn coding on Chromebooks or even phone apps, but your progress will be limited. If you’re serious about programming and creating your own projects, you’ll want a full operating system at some point.
Tool #2: A good web browser
To run any web pages you create, you need a web browser. Chrome and Firefox are the most popular, but you can use what you want as long as it’s reliable.
Tool #3: A text editor
Every programmer needs a text editor, which is where you write your code. Most computers already have a basic text editor installed, but you can find other ones (many of them free) available for download online.
How to learn programming
Programming is one of those skills no one can truly master. From our reading, it’s often compared to a “craft” in the same way art is. Like painters, programmers never sit back and decide “I’ve learned enough.” That’s a valuable insight to keep in mind as you progress. While there’s always more to learn, you can tell you’re improving based on how comfortable you are with tackling new projects, solving interesting problems, and working with increasingly complex topics. What resources should you depend on? You can get a bachelor’s degree in computer programming, but you’re likely to learn faster with self-study tools like tutorials, articles, books, boot camps, and online courses. Luckily, computer programming is one of those careers where you don’t need a degree to land a great job. It’s a skill-based field, so if you can show you have the skills, you’ll do well.